By Gina Coplon-Newfield
The major international climate agreement made waves this month as world leaders committed to limiting pollution leading to the earth’s rising temperatures. But one important announcement in Paris barely broke headlines. Four countries and eight U.S. states announced a pledge for all new passenger cars sold by 2050 to be zero emission vehicles. This was a big symbolic announcement. Indeed, transportation accounts for 25 to 30 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions in the United States and Europe, and most of these emissions are from the oil we burn in our vehicles.
The governments that made this historic vehicle declaration say their commitment will reduce transportation sector climate emissions by more than 1 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year by 2050. In Europe, the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands and Norway will work to ensure petrol stations are only a memory. Here in the United States, California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island and Vermont have committed to a fleet-wide switch to plug-in electric vehicles (EVs).
But today, EVs make up less than 1 percent of total monthly auto sales. To reach 100 percent EVs sold by 2050, we have our work cut out for us. Recently, the Sierra Club, Acadia Center and Conservation Law Foundation released a report, “Charging Up,” highlighting vital steps to put EVs in the fast lane.
For example, before EVs are truly mainstream, consumer incentives that make EVs less expensive and more convenient are essential and should be expanded and promoted. In states like Connecticut, California, Massachusetts and Maryland, consumers receive a government rebate or tax credit of $1,500 to $3,000 when they purchase or lease an EV, in addition to the federal tax credit of up to $7,500.
Additionally, the utility industry nationwide should incorporate EVs into their programs by offering lower rates for off-peak EV charging, installation of charging stations and grid efficiency load management.
Government agencies can lead by example, too. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti is adding 288 plug-in vehicles to the city’s police, fire and water department fleets. In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that 2,000 fleet vehicles will be electric by 2025.
Finally, automakers and auto dealers should make a much more concerted effort to sell EVs, putting the same kind of zeal into inventory, advertising, training and sales efforts for EVs as they do for SUVs and pickup trucks.
The destination has been set. Now we need to map out how policy makers, automakers, auto dealers, utilities and drivers will accelerate EV adoption and reach the end of the road for dirty transportation.
Gina Coplon-Newfield directs Sierra Club’s national Electric Vehicles Initiative.